A team comprising ten eleventh- and twelfth-grade Princess Margaret Secondary School students has qualified for NASA's Human Exploration Rover Challenge (HERC). They are one of the 72 teams globally and the only team from Canada to qualify for this challenge, which involves creating a human-powered rover capable of navigating Moon and Mars-like terrains, accommodating two individuals, and folding into a compact 5" x5" cube for transport to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
Enthusiastic about NASA's initiatives, Jeevan Sandhu, who currently leads the team, and Mehul Bhanot and Omar Arain discovered the challenge just two days before the deadline. With a race against time, they managed to bring more people on the team and submitted a 10-page proposal and a 3D model just minutes before the cut-off, which, to their disbelief, became one of the 72 entries to get selected.
Jeevan credits their innovative use of non-pneumatic tires in the proposal—an idea they picked from the book "Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down"—for their selection. These airless tires are ideal for space travel where traditional pneumatic tires wouldn't function.
Having completed the second stage of the challenge, the team has submitted a detailed proposal outlining their rover's design and subsystems to the NASA engineering team, which will review and provide feedback on it. This submission contributes significantly, accounting for 20% of the total challenge score.
Jag Uppal, who teaches business and computer-related courses at the school, is on the team as the teacher advisor. "Having a teacher advisor was one of the prerequisites for the challenge, so when the team approached me - I immediately said yes as I wanted to give youth a chance and was excited to see what they could accomplish," he shares.
Next on their agenda is constructing the rover, which is set to be shipped by mid-April. Soon after, the team will head to the challenge site, where they'll navigate simulated courses and obstacles across a 1.5-mile terrain.
Excited and looking forward to giving their best to the challenge, Mehul from the team shares: "We're thrilled to represent Surrey, especially because positive news doesn't always stem from this area. Now, being a part of this, many recognize us as the NASA kids, and that's a source of immense pride for us and our community".
As the team continues to learn and make their way through the challenge, they seek community support and funding, totalling $50,000, to make necessary arrangements for a trip to the NASA facility in Alabama and acquire essential resources such as 3D printers, laser cutting tools, and higher-grade construction materials for the challenge. They've contacted universities for assistance and are also open to guidance from experienced individuals to refine their rover design. "We're meeting and interacting with people from the community to arrange resources, planning workshops for elementary school kids, which is another prerequisite of the NASA challenge, and trying to stay on top of this challenge all while balancing our academic classes —it's a lot, but we're enjoying every minute of this," shares Jasmeet Dhaliwal from the team.
Looking at how driven and curious these kids are and their positive impact on the community, Jag feels the team deserves all the help they need. "They have already grown so much; they're learning about teamwork, building connections, dealing with the media, arranging resources, and so much more. And it's a proud moment for the community - for our kids to go to NASA and represent Surrey and Canada. And they are great role models for the younger kids who are now doing goal-setting and aspiring to participate in similar challenges. So, I urge the community to come forward and support them," he says.
So far, the team has received community donations totalling $6,000, and they continue to seek additional resources. Those interested in contributing can contact the school via leocraft.ca or Surrey schools' website or meet Jag Uppal at the school premises. Cheques are payable to "Princess Margaret Secondary School" with a memo written "NASA Competition". Businesses contributing substantial sums can also discuss displaying their branding on the rover, among other marketing strategies, creating a mutually beneficial partnership.
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